Grade Expectations: Don’t Complain About Public Schools Until You’ve Volunteered In One

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Public vs Private. Traditional vs Modern. Mommyish is going to look at all aspects of the education system in our new column “Grade Expectations.” From special needs to gifted & talented, and everything in between, we’ll talk schools, teachers, and educational philosophies from the parent’s perspective. 

I am a proud public school graduate. My mother has dedicated her career to teaching at public schools, specifically with disadvantaged children in a magnet program. I’m not going to pretend to be unbiased in the education debate. But then, when it comes to education, absolutely none of us are able to claim objectivity. We’re all influenced by that phenomenal teacher who put in the extra time and effort. We’re influenced by the administrator who was unfair or unrealistic. We all see the education system through the prism of our own experiences, and that of our friends and family members.

So yes, I am biased when it comes to the public education system. Even though I’ve read countless horrifying stories of school systems that do not properly train their teachers to handle special needs students. Even though I’ve heard about despicable discipline practices and troubling secrecy from school lunch providers. Even though we’ve all countless heard terrifying stories of teachers behaving inappropriately. I’ve seen all these things. I’ve written about them. And yet I still put my faith and trust in the public education system. I still think that schools are made up of a lot of really dedicated professionals who want to help kids learn.

For those of you who aren’t quite sure, I have a suggestion. Go spend some time volunteering in a public school. The schools that do the best job of educating our children have high levels of participation and incorporation with the parents and communities around them. No, I don’t have a statistic to prove that to you. I have logic. And experience. The more involved people get in schools, the more optimistic the school employees become. The more parents pay attention and visit the school, the more their children learn to value their education. And the more local businesses and organizations interact with schools, the more that students learn about not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but citizenship.

Our educational system has a lot of challenges to face, but it won’t go anywhere without the involvement of all of us. Parents need to see how these broad changes to the education system affect schools and students on an individual level. They need to know what happens when teachers lose union bargaining rights. They need to know how national reform changes the lesson plans in each class.

A friend of mine who teaches in a different state recently began working for a school system that “rates” schools and teachers. Everyone is given a grade so that parents can make choices about where to send their kids. “Failing” schools are reorganized, given new administrators and often lose the majority of their staff. Those grades were also tied to the teacher’s pay raises. As the end of her first year approached, my friend warned by her principal that should would receive an average rating. The reason? “The school system can’t afford the raises, so no one will be able to get an exceptional grade.” Parents need to see how these budget issues play out in the schools.

For those who believe that public schools are failing, I think it’s important to step out ad get involved. See the kids who are being given a great education. Chat with the teachers who working hard to help their students. Most school districts and classrooms accept volunteers in many different capacities. And if you can’t be bothered to actually get to know your schools and those who run them, you shouldn’t get to be part of the debate. If you’re only interested in complaining and not offering any solutions, no one needs your negativity.

Education is important. Students are important. And we all bring our own experience and perspective to the table. I think the more the public gets involved in helping our schools, instead of just critiquing them, the better off the whole education system will be.

(Photo: Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock)


  1. BJS

    August 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I do volunteer at a local public school. I’ve also volunteered at charter schools. As a parent, the difference between public and private schools in my experience has been how my child and I have been treated. Charter and private schools treat children and parents as valued clients, with respect and courtesy. Public schools treat children and their families as annoyances at best, and are often discourteous and disrespectful to both the children and their parents. Although many fine, hard working people work in both types of schools, unfortunately the institutional character of public schools leads to a domineering, paternalistic attitude toward children and their families.

    • kathleen

      August 21, 2012 at 8:37 pm

      I am now in my 15th year of sending children through the public school system, and I agree with Lindsay — education is a collaboration, and a failure in that arena can and does happen in public and private school. We have had pretty good experiences with the system, although there have been moments of idiocy that have astonished us. And of course in Texas the administration places more emphasis on developing football programs over arts’ programs. But again, when parents get involved and open a dialogue with the schools about what is important, the situation improves. We discovered this when my daughters got involved with orchestra…. Now, my sister taught junior high in the public system, and she quit in despair after 13 years because the parents, overwhelmingly, didn’t care enough even to attend conferences and open house events. She loved teaching, but she just couldn’t cope with the attitudes she was facing.

      A friend is in her 5th year in the private sector, and reinforces your use of the word ‘clients’ to refer to the students. She used to teach at the university level, and she noted that the entitled customer mentality of undergrads is mirrored by K-12 students and their parents in the private schools — if private money is attached to an education, the client often feels that the grades should match the investment regardless of student effort. When the parents invest a great deal of money in their children’s education, it is easy to forget that the learning process requires that the student participate as well.

      The private and charter schools may treat the parents and students with respect, but they don’t always extend the same treatment to the teachers. If you think that public schools are rushing to comply with results-based testing, you should see the anxiety on the part of a private-school teacher.

  2. CW

    August 23, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Public schools are only interested in having parents raise money and do grunt work. They aren’t interested in allowing parents to have a *REAL* say in how the schools are run. I see this even more now that my 3rd child is attending a public school (my older two are homeschooled). The U.K. has government-funded, parent-run schools. Why can’t the U.S.? Most places have co-op nursery schools that could serve as a model for how a co-op elementary school could work. But the Powers That Be would have to be willing to empower parents to actually have a real say about the schools’ operations. I don’t want to settle for baking cookies or chaperoning field trips. Let me have a voice in which math curriculum gets adopted (the district we lived in from 2006-2009 rejected the parents’ call for adopting the excellent Singapore Primary Mathematics curriculum and instead picked the dreadful “Every Day Mathematics” one).

  3. GeriC

    August 26, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Same goes for private schools. Private schools aren’t nirvana and in my experience private school parents bitch and moan and criticize just as much as (maybe more than) public school parents. And similarly, few get involved. If you send your kid to *any* school, you should be in there helping out in some capacity.

  4. Pingback: Grade Expectations: Teachers Using Social Media

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